This melody has to be stopped

by Yossi Sarid
According to a report by Yossi Yehoshua last week in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the chief education officer of the Israel Defense Forces, Brigadier General Ilan Harari, has embarked on a quest to find the representative “song of the intifada” – “something like `Jerusalem of Gold’ in the Six-Day War or like `If Only’ in the Yom Kippur War.”

The report added that Harari “is distressed by the fact that precisely a war that has claimed more than 1,000 Israeli victims doesn’t have so much as one song to set it apart.” The officer invited writers and composers from the army or from the civilian sphere to write the desired song. “I am looking for the next Naomi Shemer,” Harari is quoted as saying, referring to the late songwriter, who wrote both of the songs mentioned above.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this exclusive report reflects a chief education officer worthy of the name, the rank and the important mission he has been assigned. He barely took up his new post and immediately noticed the vacuum – a four-year war without a song of its own. How could it have happened that the muses have been silent for so long when the cannons have not stopped roaring? How can it be that to date not one scribbler has been found to proclaim: Our step beats out the message – we are here. By virtue of his post, a chief education officer cannot and perhaps should not accept this kind of defeatist state of affairs. If there is any trembling muse left in these parts, let it appear at once.

As though by an act of the devil, only three days later another report appeared, this one by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz: “Soldiers force Palestinian to play violin at West Bank checkpoint.” The event was photographed by Horit Herman-Peled, a volunteer from the women’s human rights organization Machsom Watch. The story (November 25, Page 1) was accompanied by the photograph, which shows an officer at the checkpoint speaking on his cell phone and a soldier perusing a newspaper or a document, while a long line of Palestinians waits and the Palestinian, like the psalmist of old, plays sweet tunes for Israel, with downcast features. Not one uniformed person at the scene could be found to declare: This melody has to be stopped.

The IDF response, which as usual was given following a rigorous and exhaustive check, was: “The officer responsible for the checkpoint acted insensitively, but not maliciously, and not with any intent to humiliate the violinist.” Regrettably, the IDF responses are generally no less faulty than the faulty acts themselves, and sometimes even more so. If there was no “intent to humiliate,” then the following possibilities remain for our consideration:

1. The officer and the soldiers decided to let the young Palestinian demonstrate publicly his violin skills and get a standing ovation on the spot.

2. Those in charge of the checkpoint decided to make the time of the people waiting in line go by pleasantly so that they would not get upset while waiting forever in a line that didn’t move.

3. The soldiers are fond of classical music and especially of violin solo pieces.

4. The fourth possibility is that they, too, read the report about the desire of the chief education officer for a “song of the intifada” and therefore decided let the Palestinian have an impromptu try and considered recommending him and his song.

Admittedly, the last possibility is pushing it a bit, because the testimony of the volunteer Herman-Peled was that the playing by the violinist was sad, whereas the “song of the intifada,” which has yet to be written, will certainly not set out to foist gloom on us – that’s all we need.

If I had not taken a vow never to compare what is happening here with what happened there, in those terrible times and places, this time I might have made the comparison. It’s hard to be silent, so I will quote from Akiva Eldar’s report: “As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, [Herman-Peled] was bothered more than anything else by the demand that a Palestinian play music for a Jewish soldier.”

The IDF will continue, as is its wont, to talk about “anomalies” and the philosopher Asa Kasher will continue, as is his wont, to defend the IDF in his capacity as an “expert on ethics.” And under this ethical umbrella, music will be played for us at checkpoints, and for the sake of our security an officer will carry out a confirmation of the killing of a 13-year-old Palestinian girl. Everyone is now talking about this “confirmation of killing” and no one is talking about the killing itself, as though it’s clear that the death of Iman Alhams was inevitable and unavoidable, the only questions being why it came at such short range and needed so many bullets.
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Well okay, but when was there EVER a humane and moral occupation? It’s hopeful I suppose that Israelis are questioning the tactics of the IDF, shattering as they do the image Israel needs to have of itself, but if the self-critique goes no further, all the liberal humanist soul-searching is worthless.

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